LensCoat 4Xpandable: A Review

This is an excerpt of a review published at Nature-Images.eu. See the full text here: LensCoat 4Xpandable.

I am sure there is no nature photographer on Earth who wouldn’t know LensCoat — a US company that makes neoprene protective and camouflage covers for very many DSLR lenses. I the last couple of years LensCoat was constantly extending not only the number of lens models they were making covers for but also the offer of other products, such as — pouches, rain protection covers, etc. Finally, this year the company debuted in the photo bag market segment with a new series of large lens bags called Xpandable.


The Xpandable long lens bag series currently consists of 2 models — 3Xpandable and4Xpandable. The first is with 70cm of maximum height a little smaller and therefore more suitable for lenses up to 400mm f/2.8 of Canon and Nikon, or 500 mm of Sony and Sigma. Larger lenses can be put into it either without a camera attached or with hood reversed. In that case, also the high tripod foot may be an obstacle that will need to be removed or replace with a shorter third-party foot.

The 4Xpandable is 73cm high which makes a big difference because it can accommodate a 800mm or even 600mm Canon or Nikon lens mounted on a camera, with hood in shooting position and even with a 1.4x or 1.7x (Nikon) teleconverter.

It looks like 4Xpandable is currently the only bag on the market that comes close to satisfying my requirements for a long lens bag, namely:

  1. to accommodate my wildlife photography equipment completely assembled: a 600mm lens with the hood on, a teleconverter (up to 2x Canon Extender III) and a camera attached;
  2. when empty, to be packed in a compact way for transportation in other baggage separately from photographic equipment.

Therefore, I ordered a 4Xpandable bag soon after it was released.


Improvement Suggestions

Here are some improvement suggestions for the case if someone from LensCoat team would read this review:

  • Increase the minimum height by 3-5cm. This will allow to keep a 2x teleconverter attached in both positions — when the bag is cuffed and when it is expanded to full size.
  • Provide means for fixation of the lens and camera when they are inside. That can be a padded collar, pads or similar.
  • Make the walls of Xpandable more stiff. First, this will additionally reduce the side movements of the equipment in the bag. Second, a more stable shape of the bag will also be better for tripod attachement. Third, the attachment of harnesses and waist belts will be improved this way.
  • Provide M.O.L.L.E. attachment points at the sides of Xpandable bags in addition or instead of those that are now on the front.
  • Provide an optional complete harness system, like in trekking backpacks — with padded waist belt included.


This bag could be great as a pouch for a ready-to-use long lens and camera combo when you need to transport it in a car or on a cart, such as on Eckla Beach Rolly (see a reviewEckla Beach Rolly). Travel photographers who go to African or Indian national parks may find Xpandable particularly nice to use in safari cars — when the equipment has to be ready for use but at the same time to be protected from dust and hits when the car is moving. Being a wildlife photographer, I need this bag for use at locations where I arrive for shooting with all my baggage, but then have short walks to search for a particular subjet while the rest of equipment remains in a base camp or in a car.

Overall, I do not recommend Xpandable for situations when it needs to be carried over long distances. If you are looking for a backpack for hiking or trekking with your largest telephoto prime lens always ready for shooting, LensCoat Xpandable isn’t for you. Unfortunately for this area of use there is still no perfect solution for 600mm-800mm lenses. Photographers with such demands have to choose from 3 compromises — 1) to get one of the bags mentioned in this review, i.e. made by KinesisLoweproTenbaKönig, and carry the lens with hood reversed; 2) to use a normal trekking backpack with some kind of padded insert; 3) to go for LensCoat 4Xpandable. I did the last, and 4Xpandable became a nice addition to my two other bags — F-Stop Gear Satori EXP that serves me as trekking backpack (see a review F-Stop Gear Satori EXP), and Lowepro Flipside 300 that I use during short excursions with little equipment. I don’t plan to hike with 4Xpandable on my back a lot.

As I explained in this review, the 4Xpandable model is too wide even for the largest prime lens, which is currently 600mm f/4. For owners of 800mm f/5.6 lenses who don’t use teleconverters very often and have replaced the tripod mount foot with a shorter one I would recommend to take a look at 3Xpandable. Its diameter is 19cm, and it should fit the lens better. However, this bag is 3cm shorter than 4Xpandable — too short even for a 1.4x teleconverter. Owners of a 600mm f/4 lens, like me, would probably use teleconverters more often. Then 3Xpandable may be only an option if you’d agree not to carry the lens with a TC attached or to carry it with the hood reversed.

If you don’t need your large lens bag to be foldable, i.e. if you don’t transport your equipment to shooting location in other bags and cases, take a look at Kinesis PolyCore L622 bags instead. These bags are more advanced and better for long carrying.

For the reasons that I have explained in this review, I mean that Xpandable bags aren’t worth to be purchased outside the US by anyone who doesn’t absolutely need their unique capabilities — at least as long as trade treaty between US and EU isn’t signed, and custom duty and import VAT apply.

Read the rest of this text here: http://www.nature-images.eu/contents/reviews/xpandable/index.html

Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM: First Impressions

Yesterday I added this wonderful new creation by Sigma – Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM – to my arsenal of lenses. Since its release in November last year, it is being celebrated by so many photographers. Many have already tried it out and published extremely positive reviews. Now, I have this lens in my hands and can form my own opinion as of a nature photographer. I am going to report my experience with Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM in two or three posts in this blog that will grow to a more extended text in Reviews section of my website.

As always, my tests are only of practical kind and from a view point of nature photography. I claim neither scientific correctness nor objectiveness that can be applied to other areas of photography. For more profound technical tests and comparison with other lenses see specialised sites like “The Digital Picture” or “Digital Photography Review”.


As with other Sigma lenses, the 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM comes with a hood, both caps, and with a very well made case. Although I prefer to use Lowepro and Thinktank pouches with my lenses or to put them blank in a padded photo bag, the tradition of Sigma to supply such a quality pouch with every lens is really nice.

What's in the package: Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM, hood, pouch

What’s in the box: Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM lens, hood, pouch, rear and front caps

Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM is a rather compact lens. Like all 1.4/35 lenses, it is larger than a 50 mm lens but of similar size or smaller as its Zeiss and Canon counterparts. It is very well built, even compared with already good full-frame lenses that this manufacturer produced in the last years. The lens body feels solid although not as heavy and “bullet-proof” as in Zeiss lenses. Just like all other 1.4/35 lenses it has no weather sealing, and thus should be used with care in dusty and wet environment. The focusing ring moves very smoothly and is rubbered. The rest of the body has black smooth finishing – which is in my opinion better than in Canon and all Sigma lenses – though not as good as in Zeiss.

Compare the size of  Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM (in the middle) with Sigma 150 mm f/2.8 DG HSM Macro and Sigma 15 mm f/2.8 DG HSM Diagonal Fisheye.

Compare the size of Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM (in the middle) with Sigma 150 mm f/2.8 DG HSM Macro and Sigma 15 mm f/2.8 DG HSM Diagonal Fisheye. All lenses are shown here without front caps. The fisheye has an unremovable hood which adds almost a third of its height.

Since I received my copy of Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM only yesterday, I hadn’t a chance yet to use it for real photography but couldn’t resist to try it out and did some quick tests in a “home studio”. In these tests, the lens was used with a Canon 5D Mark II camera mounted on a tripod and set to ISO 400. As the target, I used a Soviet 10 roubles banknote which has a very fine pattern of barely visible curved lines. I attached it on the original box that my Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM arrived in. Of course, all 100% crops shown below are of an unprocessed RAW image.


Currently, most of my lenses are manual focus only. Therefore I can compare this lens only with Canon autofocus lenses that I owned several years ago and with two other Sigma lenses that I currently own (though usually focus manually). I will be able to tell more after I have used Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM for awhile. My impression during this first shooting was that the autofocus is very accurate and quick – probably on par with Canon lenses such as EF 17-40 L and quicker than in my other Sigma lenses. The motor is silent and sounds more like in a Canon than like in an older Sigma.


The resolution is what I was most interested in when I decided to purchase this lens. Sigma did with its 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM a kind of miracle raising the resolution to previously unknown level. According not only to the manufacturer but also to many independent reviews it is one of the sharpest wide-angle lenses currently available. Since, I am going to use this lens very often for landscape photography, resolution is for me the most important criterium. It was the first thing that I tested.

As usually in such tests, to evaluate the resolution of Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM, I looked at the sharpness in the middle, edge and corner of an image that was made with different aperture setting. I had to adjust the shutter speed every time when the aperture was changing. Therefore, some samples may appear darker than the others: It has nothing to do with the lens but is only a result of different exposure settings.

Zones of 100% crops used for sharpness assessment.

Zones of 100% crops used for sharpness assessment.


The following samples show the image sharpness in the middle of the frame at different apertures.

f/1.4 frame middle















Here are the 100% crops from the left edge of the frame at different aperture values.

f/1.4 border















The following samples are 100% crops from the bottom left corner of the frame at different aperture values.















As you can see in the samples, this lens is very sharp even wide open. The sharpness increases at f/2. At apertures between f/2.8 and f/8, the image is extremely sharp. Even more remarkable is the uniformity of sharpness at all apertures: At extreme edges and in corners it is almost the same as in the frame centre.

Chromatic aberrations

All lenses that I have ever seen were showing chromatic aberrations in certain circumstances. No lens is immune against it, and, of course, not Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM. However, lenses differ in the strength of CA. In shots with good lenses they should be, if at all, then barely visible. According to what was already reported about Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM, this lens produces very minor chromatic aberrations. Under studio condition my observations confirm it. For final conclusion, I have to see the images shot at bright light.

The CA in photography are most easily distinguishable in high contrast areas of an image and increase from the frame middle to edges. For the samples shown below I have cropped a square between the middle and the left edge of the test image.















To my eyes, the CA are very well handled in this lens. In the test images they are very little noticeable at all aperture values. I’d expect them to increase at strong light but overall this issue is in Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM within the usual range for any quality wide-angle lens.

Macro capability

Wide-angle lenses aren’t macro lenses but I use them often for close-up shots of amphibians and reptiles. Therefore, the capability for close focusing and possibility to achieve a good frame composition with a small subject are important to me.

Although Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM doesn’t offer such an extreme wide angle of view as fisheye lenses and doesn’t pull out the foreground, it appears to be useable for small, but not too small, subjects, such as frogs. The minimum focusing distance of Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM is 30 cm, but the working distance is only around 15 cm which is not very close, on one hand, but on the other, close enough for larger subjects, such as snakes, tortoises, or larger lizards.

Below you see how an image of a small frog shot with this lens could be. The toy frog shown here was about 5 cm long.

A close-up shot of a 5 cm long frog at a distance of around 15 cm from the lens front (i.e. at minimum focusing distance of 30 cm).

A close-up shot of a 5 cm long frog at a distance of around 15 cm from the lens front (i.e. at minimum focusing distance of 30 cm).

Review: Acratech GP-S Ballhead

For my current lightweight tripod Gitzo 1542T Traveler Series 1 I needed a head that would be lightweight, too, and compact, and also usable for all genres of photography that I do during my trips, i.e. it had to be equally good for wildlife photography, for macro, for landscapes and even for panoramas. With my large Novoflex Quadropod (see Reviews: Novoflex Quadropod) I use a Novoflex Classic Ball 5 (see Reviews: Novoflex Classic Ball 5). If I am going to travel long and expect to encounter various subjects, i.e. am not sure which genre of nature photography it is going to be, I take with me all tripod gear that I may need. Thus, to use the Novoflex Classic Ball 5 as gimbal head, I need Wimberley SideKick, and I need a panorama plate to make it suitable for panorama photography. With the lightweight version of tripod that is now based on Gitzo 1542T (see Reviews: Gitzo 1542T Traveler Series 1) I also need the same functionality.

For use with the Traveler tripod, Gitzo recommends the compact and lightweight ball heads GH1781T or GH1781TQR. They have a similar construction, height and capacity as the Manfrotto 486 shown below and therefore aren’t equivalent to Acratech GP-s. Like Manfrotto 486 these Gitzo heads have no friction adjustment mechanism, nor panoramic rotation; the head is fixated with a single lever. The ball is even smaller than in Manfrotto. Gitzo’s compact head costs about twice as much as Manfrotto 486 but just half of the price of Acratech GP-s. Though I didn’t have a chance to try a GH1781T head, its construction lets me think that it performs very similarly to the much cheaper Manfrotto 486 and that the only advantage of Gitzo’s ballhead is it’s shape that allows to take full advantage of small carrying size of the 1542T tripod.

Similar ball heads with single leveler construction — Novoflex BALL 30 and BALL 40, Novoflex MagicBall Mini, Freisol CB-30C have the same problems: no panning and no friction control. Some of them, such as MagicBall Mini and Ball 40 are also too wide and bulky.

In general, ball heads that have a single knob construction are too primitive for my needs — at least because they have no separate control of horizontal movement (panning). To use such a head for panoramas, I need to attach a separate panning plate to it. I tried to use Novoflex Panorama plate with the above mentioned Manfrotto head and, finally — with Novoflex MagicBalance. In both cases the construction was quite heavy and bulky and therefore didn’t make much sense for use with such a compact tripod.

Therefore, I compared all ball head models of several manufacturers that are suitable for lightweight tripods. The results are shown in the following table.

Acratech GP-s Novoflex BALL 40 Novoflex MagicBall Mini Feisol CB-30C Markins Q-Ball Q3 “Emille” RRS BH-30 Pro
Overall Height (mm) 98 95 75 75 89 75
Overall Body Width (mm) 80 ca. 60 110 unknown 48 unknown
Ball Diameter (mm) 38 unknown 40 30 38 30
Base Diameter (mm) 53 53 35 unknown 56 41
Capacity (kg) 11.3 10 5 8 30 6.8
Weight (g) 400 485 330 283 375 283

As you see, Markins Q-Ball Q3 “Emille” has the best characteristics. I don’t believe however that its load capacity is so huge. It is a really piece of gear head that has features of a serious tripod had — friction control (even bi-axial) and panning. The panning rotation is, however, only around the base and not around the top of the head as in Acratech GP/GP-s. After GP-s, this head was my second candidate. The third was Really Right Stuff (RRS) BH-30 Pro — that also has both, friction control and panning, but also rotates only around the base. Finally, I made my decision in favour of Acratech GP-s. In the rest of this review I am going to explain why.

Recently, Acratech GP-s became the third member of my set of tripod heads that you see in the picture below.

My current ball heads compared — Novoflex Classic Ball 5, Manfrotto 486 Compact Ball Head (with Novoflex quick release plate), Acratech GP-s.

Construction and Function

Acratech GP-s on Gitzo 1542T Traveler Series 1 tripod.

The Acratech GP Ballhead is a remarkable product. Already its appearance is unparalleled and at once makes you wish to try it out. The construction of this tripod head reminds me of an instrument of a medieval alchemist. I any other ball head the ball is in a metal enclosure, so that only a small part of it shows out at the top of the head. All Acratech ball heads have no enclosure, and the ball rotates between two metal bows that are held together by two screws. When the screws are tightened, this fixates the ball. Since the ball is being squeezed from two sides, it is fixated immediately in place. While this problem is solved in top-class ball heads like Novoflex Classic Ball, in many cheaper ball heads, fixating the ball typically causes slight move of the camera off its position. Manfrotto’s 486 Compact Head that I also own is particularly prone to that. In Acratech GP Ballhead this problem doesn’t exist due to its special construction which, however, also has a drawback that I am going to report below when I will be discussing the disadvantages. The third knob fixates the panning of the head. That the GP Ballhead has a panning plate like in big tripod heads is its another advantage over many alternative compact ball heads. The ball lock and panning fixation knobs are rubbered and pleasant to operate.

The knob of the quick release plate is rubbered, too. It is quite large and therefore can be easy rotated when the camera is mounted. A positive difference of this quick release plate from Kirk and Novoflex plates that I also own is that it has a spring loaded security knob which prevents that the camera slips out before the plate before is fixated.

That all Acratech heads have no enclosure could be a big advantage when they are used outdoors. If they don’t contain parts made of steel, i.e. that can rust, they may be easier to clean than heads with enclosure. This is my assumption, however, which I have yet to verify.

A really special feature of Acratech GP and GP-s heads is the possibility to mount them turned over — with the rotating panoramic base up. For this to be done, the quick release plate has to be removed like showed on the picture below.

Acratech GP-s with the quick mount plate removed. To remove the screw that holds the plate no special tool is necessary. If you are in the field and have no tools you can use a small coin to loosen and tighten the screw.

Acratech GP-s reversed for use with a nodal point adapter.

After that it can be mounted with this side on a tripod, and the quick mount plate has to be attached on the base of the head which is now its top. (See the picture on the right.) In that position the Acratech GP/GP-s combined with a nodal point adapter becomes a real panorama head. A water level bubble on the quick release plate helps to achieve a strictly horizontal rotation of the camera. Since it is now standing on a thinner base, the load capacity would be reduced, i.e. we shouldn’t expect it to support heavy gear. This is not an issue, however, because for panorama photography, cameras with wide-angle lenses are used that aren’t heavy.

The gimbal function that Acratech prises in GP/GP-s heads is another very useful feature that other ball heads don’t have. It was for me the second reason to prefer the GP-s to other two candidates — Markins G3 and RRS BH-30. When a small telephoto lens is mounted in completely tilted positon, it can be rotated over vertical and horizontal axes, as if it were attached to a gimbal head. Technically this is not a big deal, and could be made possible in any ball head. However, no one had the idea to it except Acratech. They put a small plastic collar around the “neck” of the GP/GP-s. This collar acts as a wheel when the camera is rotated around horizontal axis.

Since I needed a ball head for ultra portable Gitzo 1542T tripod, I got the GP-s version. The table below shows the technical parameters of the GP-s head in comparison with GP. These heads are very similar in construction and have the same load capacity. The difference between them is that GP-s has a smaller base, and as a result it is a little lighter and lower. It also has a relocated pan knob.

Overall Height (mm) 98 104
Overall Body Width (mm) 80 80
Ball Diameter (mm) 38 38
Base Diameter (mm) 53 60
Capacity (kg) 11.3 11.3
Weight (g) 400 450

In my opinion, there is no obvious reason for someone to prefer the GP version even if it has to be used with a larger tripod because GP-s and GP are basically the same model — that Acratech calls GV2. Both heads appear to be better suitable for small and medium sized tripods than for large. As you can see on the second picture above, when the Acratech GP-s is mounted on Gitzo 1542T, its base has the same diameter as tripod’s head mount dish. In Gitzo 1542T this dish is almost as wide as in larger models of tripods, also of other manufacturers, i.e. the GP-s would fit also to a larger tripod as well.


As far a I can judge for the time of writing this review — having tested the Acratech GP-s at home and used it once outdoors — it meets almost all my expectations that I had when I was ordering it.

The Acratech GP-s has a solid construction described above and works accordingly. The ball movements are smooth — though not so smooth as in Novoflex Classic Ball 5 whose ball is much larger — and allow precise positioning of the camera. I didn’t expect the GP-s head to support 11.3 kg in tilted position because even the much larger and stronger Classic Ball 5 is capable for this. Acratech claims that their other product — Ultimate Ballhead — can withstand the impact of 13.6 kg (30 lb), and even shows photos of tests. However, the head is shown only under vertical pressure and horizontal tearing. There is no evidence of the same ability when the load is tilted, for instance, at 45 degrees which would better represent a real life use of it. I don’t believe that such heads would have it. Anyway, it appears that my Acratech GP-s would barely support 5 kg in that position. I tried it with about 4 kg load, and had to tighten the ball lock very firmly to prevent my camera and lens from falling down immediately. I just can’t imagine that the same can be done with over 11 kg.

The same applies for friction (or tension) control. In the user’s manual we read the following: “Many photographers adjust the Ball Tension Knob tightly enough to keep their camera from flopping over when they le go of i, but loose enough to aloow them to position it for a shot.” Yes, this is what friction control is for, and it works fine in Acratech GP-s only with a load up to 2.5-3kg. With heavier gear, the friction control is almost unusable. When I mounted an EOS 5D Mark II body (about 900g) and EF 300 mm F/2.8 L IS USM lens (about 2.5kg), i.e. total of about 3.5kg, the tension of the ball wasn’t enough to support this load even for a moment: It was flapping over immediately. How about 11kg?

With the same load of about 3.5kg I also did a test of locking precision. Under heavy load many ball heads sag a little when the ball lock was tightened. This is a problem when a macro or super telephoto lens is used that need to be aimed precisely. My setup sagged for at least 2mm. However, it is difficult to say if it was the tripod or the head that was responsible for it. Certainly, such a lightweight tripod is not supposed to provide perfect support for heavy super telephoto lenses. In the same test with a 150 macro lens and the same camera, i.e. with the weight of less than 2kg, I didn’t notice any changes of the camera position.

The Acratech GP-s fits almost perfectly between the legs of the Gitzo 1542T when it is folded (see the picture below), so that the total transport length doesn’t exceed 43cm.

Gitzo 1542T with Acratech GP-s folded to minimum size for transportation. You see that the combined length of the tripod and head doesn’t exceed 43cm this is currently the minimum that can be achieved for professional tripods.

Deficits and Drawbacks

Acratech recommends the quick release plate with screw fixation for use with large lenses. This was my reason to choose this version and not the one with leveler fixation. The plate with lever fixation has a very good scale that makes centering the camera and positioning focusing rails and nodal point adapters easier. Now, I am missing such a scale in my quick release plate. I assume that the scale was absent in the original version (with screw fixation) and the manufacturer added this obviously very useful feature later when the version with leveler was produced.

There is no friction limit control in Acratech GP/GP-s. Instead, the available knob adjusts friction gradually. The friction limit control that exists, for instance, in Novoflex Classic Ball or Markins Q-Ball, allows you to choose from several levels of friction. I like this more.

The friction control knob is too loose; even tightening it very firmly doesn’t help with a 3-4kg load: The camera tilts over as soon as you have removed the hand that was holding it.

The ball lock wheel in Acratech GP, when it isn’t firmly tightened, performs similarly to friction control: The camera isn’t locked in position though their movements are not completely free. If the camera and lens combo is heavy, it will immediately tilt over if you loosen this screw just a little, and the friction control mechanism even tightened for full strength wouldn’t prevent it. I wished a leveler instead of this wheel, like in Classic Ball and many other ball heads, that would lock or unlock the ball. In other ball heads, such as Arca Swiss Monoball, that have a wheel for locking, this wheel doesn’t need to be tightened completely for the ball to be firmly locked. In Acratech GP you have to tighten it and to double check if your camera doesn’t move after that. This is pretty annoying.

The head can support a 3.5-4 kg load in tilted position, and only if the ball lock knob is very firmly tightened. This is enough for most applications of outdoor photography but much less than 11.3kg promised by the manufacturer.

The ball of the Acratech GP is quite small. For the version GP-s that is intended for lightweight traveler tripods this is good because it reduces weight and size of the head. Since I have a GP-s for use with a Gitzo Traveler tripod, I am not complaining. However, for the version GP that is supposed to be used with larger tripods, it would certainly be a weakness because a ball with larger diameter would allow much smoother movements of the camera and its more precise positioning. Also friction control works better with large balls.


In my opinion, the Acratech GP-s ballhead should be perfect for equipment with up to 3.5 kg weight, i.e. a professional camera with a medium size lens, such as 70-200 mm zoom or 180 mm prime. The declared by the manufacturer maximum load capacity of 11.3 kg appears not to be a real-life value.

I believe that Acratech GP-s is one of the best ball heads for professional use with lightweight tripods. It certainly meets very well the requirements of a travelling nature photographer who shoots landscapes and panoramas along with wildlife and macro subjects.

A tale of a lost centre column

Unfortunately, I lost the centre column of my new Gitzo GT1542T Traveler Series 1 tripod in the field during my Ethiopia trip. Since it is a product of the “legendary” Gitzo, and even more than that — it is a current model of a popular series, I was expecting that obtaining a spare part in Germany wouldn’t be a problem. After my return home, I searched the Internet for the part that I needed. To my surprise, only a so-called “short” column variant was offered by Gitzo dealers in their online shops. Also at Gitzo website no standard, i.e. long, column could be ordered. At Gitzo’s site I found the address of their service partner — the only one in Germany, by the way. I sent an e-mail to that company asking for help with restoring the centre column. They responded very quickly, sending me a page from spare parts catalogue and asking to choose the part I needed and to send them its number. The centre column that I was looking for had the code D09516.24.

I mailed this code to the service. They wrote back that it would cost me €114 and that they have to order at Gitzo in Italy. Though 114 euros for 30 cm of carbon pipe was quite a lot, I agreed. They informed me that the shipment would take up to a month. (Note: The spare part had to be shipped from Italy — a neighbour of Germany whose border is only about 500 km away from my home.)

Exactly 30 days after that I received the package per post in my office. It contained a column but I recognized at once that it was too short. At home, after I assembled the tripod, it was looking as shown below. Compare this picture with the second picture in my review of Gitzo GT1542T Taveler Series 1, and you’ll see the difference.

This image shows the GT1542T with the same Manfrotto 486 ball head as above, but the centre column is shorter. I got it as replacement for the lost original from Gitzo service.
This image shows the GT1542T with the same Manfrotto 486 ball head as above, but the centre column is shorter. I got it as replacement for the lost original from Gitzo service. 

The disadvantages of this column were obvious: First, the tripod was about 10 cm lower than originally; second, the head was too far between the legs when the tripod was folded for carrying, therefore it was not so compact. Strangely, the packaging of this spare part was labeled correctly, i.e. as containing a D09516.24 item. Nevertheless it was obviously a wrong part. I returned it to service company with my complains, explanations and even photos of the tripod before and after the column replacement. The service replied that they would send the item back to Italy.

Two weeks later I received another e-mail from them where they were informing me that their Italian colleagues are going to send the same wrong centre column again meaning that it was correct. I replied that I wouldn’t accept it: It was clearly a much shorter column; everybody was seeing this — no matter what was written on the package. The service wrote back that they would ask Gitzo to investigate this case for possible error.

Another month was over. I sent an e-mail again to that person in the service company that I had been communicating with before asking him for an update. I got no reply. Then I sent a request to Gitzo directly via their homepage. The Manfrotto (In case you still don’t know: Gitzo is actually a branch of Manfrotto.) office in Germany replied the next day. They offered me two alternatives — either to order a spare part from Gitzo in Italy and hope that it will be that time a right one, or they will send me a longer column from a Gitzo GT1830 Mountaineer model (part number D09906.24), however, made not of carbon but of basalt. Certainly I preferred the first option, i.e. to wait again till a replacement part arrives.

A Gitzo GT1542T centre column compared to one from Gitzo GT1830 which is compatible but much longer and made of basalt. I was afraid that using such a long basalt column may reduce the vibration damping ability of the tripod.
A Gitzo GT1542T centre column compared to one from Gitzo GT1830 which is compatible but much longer and made of basalt. I was afraid that using such a long basalt column may reduce the vibration damping ability of the tripod.

Three weeks later I received a mail from Manfrotto Germany telling that the centre column arrived, and that it was indeed longer. The next day it arrived per post, and recognized at once that this time the centre column was identical to the original. To my pleasant surprise, there was no invoice in the package but only a delivery note: The item was free of charge — as “fair dealing”. Although three months were necessary till the function of my tripod was restored, I was finally satisfied with Gitzo’s service. Of course, it was a bit awkward for people at the headquarters that they weren’t recognizing at first what was wrong with the item that they had initially shipped. However, they took my complaints seriously and finally satisfied my requests.

I also have learned from this story two things — that even small parts of an expensive gear are expensive and, even if they weren’t, that it is better not to loose them because their replacement may take very long.

Review: Gitzo GT1542T – Traveler Series 1

Note: I wrote this review for my website already in February 2012. The full version — including videos is available here: Nature Images by Arthur Tiutenko: Gitzo GT1542T — Traveler Series 1

In two years of using a Novoflex Quadropod as the only tripod I had many opportunities not only to appreciate its advantages but also to recognize some deficits and problems. Although the praise and the complaints that I have written in my review a year ago (see Novoflex Quadropod) remain valid, I had to conclude that the Quadropod isn’t an optimal solution suitable for all situations when a photographer would want to use a tripod. When I decided to purchase a Quadropod, my goal was to have only one support with me during expeditions and trips — for all shooting situations and all kinds of subjects — for wildlife, landscapes, macro. The Quadropod concept was promising this. However, its limitations became obvious after I used it a couple of times in the field. I have written about it in the Quadropod review in detail, thus would list them here briefly:

  1. Even QP B — the lightest Quadropod base and the one that I have — is quite heavy.
  2. Assembling the Quadropod takes quite long, and a nature photographer who needs it to be immediately ready for use has to carry it assembled. With four normal, i.e. full-sized, legs a Quadropod weighs almost 4 kg and is bulky just like any large tripod.
  3. The light weight variant — with walking sticks — can support only very small equipment and in practice is suitable only for landscape photography, and when no wind is blowing. Shooting with a camera and lens that weigh together about 3.5 kg is not possible due to extremely high vibration. So for wildlife photography only normal legs or their combination with walking sticks can be used.
  4. The legs can’t be fixated in open position and collapse as soon as you try to move the Quadropod at short distance. If your fingers happen to be at the base, it may be literary a pain — when they get jammed.
  5. There is no fixation that prevents the legs from being unscrewed off the base when you are adjusting their length, i.e. rotating the locks. For me this is the most annoying thing in Quadropod. I hope that Novoflex will find a way to improve it. Otherwise the Quadropod will be a fail.
  6. Unfortunately Novoflex doesn’t make bases with removable centre column. Therefore, if you need a minimal height that is usually important for wildlife and macro photography, you have to choose the version QP B, i.e. the one without centre column. However, it is not that good for landscape photography where a centre column is of advantage because it allows quick and precise adjustments of view angle. With Quadropod there is no chance to have both unless you buy and carry with you two bases. As I wrote in the review, my Quadropod has a QP B base. Although I enjoyed using it with a heavy tele lens, it was very annoying when I was shooting landscapes. I even missed some shots while I was tampering with four legs of the Quadropod trying to find the proper height.

Due to such deficits of Quadropod I could not realize my plan to get along with only one support. My second goal was to have such a tripod that I would not hesitate to take with me more often. This goal wasn’t possible to achieve with the Quadropod, and I noticed that I still prefer to leave this heavy gear at home whenever possible. This experience resulted in a decision to get a second support that would be an addition to Quadropod offsetting its deficits and inconveniences.

As usually in such cases, I did a careful research of small tripods currently available on the market. After many comparisons and serious considerations I finally chose this Gitzo.

Construction and Features

The GT1542T has the height and stability of a standard tripod, such as Gitzo Mounaineer Series 1, but is more compact when folded and much more light. It is dedicated to photographers who use professional equipment and need a highly portable support with no compromise.

The brand Gitzo is famous for high-end tripods that are utilizing some of most advanced technologies and materials. The GT1542T is one of such products. With a kit based on this tripod model the company won the “If Design Award 2012” — one prize out of 2,923 entries at one of the world’s most prestigious design competitions!

With only 1 kg, the GT1542T is currently the lightest and with less than 50 cm transport length the most compact tripod on the market that is strong and stable enough to support the weight of a professional camera body and a medium sized tele lens. The table below gives and overview of these and other important technical characteristics.

Load capacity (with short column) 8.0 kg
Material carbon fiber 6X
Maximum height 149 cm
Maximum height (with centre column down) 116.5 cm
Minimum height 22 cm
Closed length (with centre column reversed) 42.5 cm
Weight 1 kg
Load capacity 8 kg

The metal parts of the GT1542T are made of magnesium and have the beautiful spotted finishing that characterizes the Gitzo tripods (see the picture on the right). The leg segments and the centre column are made of 6x carbon fibre, a material that is patented by Gitzo who claims that it makes their tripods more shake resistent and more sturdy.

The GT1542T is delivered with a long centre column. When it is completely pulled up, the total height of the tripod increases by almost 30 cm. It can be replaced by a shorter column that is available separately. The height of the centre column can be adjusted very quickly: To move it up and down you only need to loosen the fixation ring at its bottom a little. Tightening this ring immediately fixates the column. Gitzo calls this “rapid column”. Nature photographers who often have to react quickly at subject’s movements and scenery changes would particularly appreciate this feature. The columns in Gitzo tripods are not rotating, i.e. the horizontal rotation of the equipment is done through head. The mechanism that prevents rotation is very simple: There is a small trench along the column that fits on a rib inside the tube through which the column is moving.

The centre column can be removed completely, and the head can be mounted directly on the base. This reduces the total height even more and may increase the stability of the tripod so that it can support a heavier gear. I suppose that the claimed maximum load capacity of 8 kg can be achieved only when the column is completely down or removed. Also the minimum height of 22 cm should be possible only without the column. To remove the column you have to unscrew either the head mount at its top or the hook at its bottom. Then you can loosen the fixation screw and just pull the column out. The screw with the hook and the head mount can then be put in place of the column.

For transportation the centre column can be reversed. If the head is small, it can fit between the legs as shown on the picture below. The length of GT1542T is then below 50 cm, and it can fit even in a small equipment bag.

This image shows the GT1542T with a Manfrotto 486 ball head when it is folded for transportation. With such a small head, the centre column can be reversed. This reduces the length to less than 50 cm.

This image shows the GT1542T with a Manfrotto 486 ball head when it is folded for transportation. With such a small head, the centre column can be reversed. This reduces the length to less than 50 cm.

Since I use my GT1542T mainly for landscape photography, I have a Novoflex Magic Balance head and a panorama plate mounted on it. It doesn’t fit between the legs and I don’t reverse the column (see the picture below). Even then the tripod easily fits in my bag.

Here is my GT1542T how I use it most of the time: with a Novoflex Magic Balance leveling head and a panorama plate. This head is thicker and doesn't fit between the legs. The column can't be reversed because of that. This makes the tripod almost 10 cm longer.
Here is my GT1542T how I use it most of the time: with a Novoflex Magic Balance leveling head and a panorama plate. This head is thicker and doesn’t fit between the legs. The column can’t be reversed because of that. This makes the tripod almost 10 cm longer.

The installation of GT1542T goes very quickly. You can get a collapsed tripod in position for shooting in not more than 20 seconds. When a leg is in a collapsed state, the fixation screws are so close to each other that I can loosen all three simultaneously rotating them with one hand. After that I can pull the only 1 m long leg to its full length with only one movement of my arm.

Stability and Shake Absorption

The stability of this very small and light tripod is remarkable. However, to have an unbiased opinion, I would need another tripod of similar size and quality that I don’t have at the moment. For now I only can report that I was very impressed when I tried the GT1542T for the first time. Despite its thin legs and overall slim construction it felt rock solid.

To be able to judge more objectively, I did some tests with my equipment. As usually with such tests, I was interested in real-life suitability rather than in technical aspects, i.e. I wasn’t measuring anything and analyzing statistics. I used the same testing method as in my tests for Novoflex Classic Ball 5 and Quadropod review last year that allowed me to roughly assess the shake resistance of GT1542T which is the most important characteristic of a tripod.

To avoid additional damping effect of the ground I had put this tripod on a stone floor. Since the GT1542T is obviously strong enough to support a camera with wide-angle lens, I took telephoto lenses for my tests that are much more critical in terms of shakes. To simulate a heavy load, I used my EF 300 mm f/2.8 IS USM which weighs over 2.5 kg. Together with a 5D Mark II body it was well over 3 kg. For reference I took a much lighter combination of the same camera with a Sigma 150 mm macro lens. This had to simulate a normal use of this tripod. Since I was assessing only the capacity of the tripod I didn’t use any head with it. Instead the lenses were mounted with their collars directly on tripod’s centre column. Photographers normally use a cable or wireless, or timed release when shooting from a tripod. Personally, I use the timer release in the camera more often. So I did this time. Since the test setup with a 300 mm lens was causing pretty long shaking, I set the timer to 10s instead of my usual 2s.

All test shots were made with the same exposure settings — ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/15s — with and without live view, i.e. with and without mirror hit.

Below you see the images from test shots with a reference setup — Sigma 150mm F2,8 EX DG APO HSM and EOS 5D Mark II. Here and in all other tests below, the grey square marks the area in the frame that is showed as 100% crops in the next two pictures.

Test shot with a 150 mm lens at maximum height, i.e. with the column completely pulled up, and live view on. (The area showed below in 100% crops is marked with grey square here.)

150 mm — 10s timer, no mirror lockup, nor live view

150 mm — live view, 10s timer.

The first image above that shows the full frame from a shot that was done with live view turned on, i.e. when the mirror was blocked. I applied smart sharpening to this image when I was resizing it. I did this also with the next two such overview images. All 100% crops here are of course unprocessed.

As you can see in the above samples, the quality of the image is quite good — note that it was made at shutter speed of 1/15s when the column was completely pulled up. The blur caused by mirror hit is very well noticeable in the left image, however.

The next images come from the tests with a 300 mm lens. The results of the test are quite surprising. Gitzo recommends to use the GT1542T with lenses up to 200 mm only. Such lenses weigh typically not more than 1.5 kg. My 2.5 kg heavy 300 mm tele exceeds this very significantly. Also the longer the focal distance of a lens is the more prune it is to shakes. Therefore, the test setup with EF 300 mm f/2.8 IS USM was quite extreme. Nevertheless, the tripod did the job surprisingly well.

Test with a 300 mm lens with the column completely up. As in previous picture, the area of 100% crops is marked with grey square. The image showed here was made with live view on.

300 mm — release button pushed with a finger.

300 mm — timer release in 2s.

300 mm — no mirror lockup, nor live view

300 mm — 10s timer release, live view

The first of the above 100% crops comes from an image that I shot when I just pushed the release button on the camera. You see how blurred it is. The second image was made through automatic release in 2 seconds. The equipment was still shaking. The result was less blurred but also unusable. The other two images that were made with timer set to 10s and after the shaking stopped are quite good.

My biggest surprise was to find out that pulling the column down and reducing the height brings not improvement except reduced vibration period. As you can see on the pictures below, the sharpness is similar to above images that were taken with maximum column height.

Test shot with a 300 mm lens with the column down. The area showed below in 100% crops is marked with grey square here too.

300 mm — 10s timer, no mirror lockup, nor live view

300 mm — 10s timer, live view

To test the damping capability, I used the video function in the camera. I tapped the camera with a hand and recorded the shakes on video. Below are three video clips with the results. Please compare the videos at the bottom of this page http://www.nature-images.eu/contents/reviews/gt1542t/index.html.

The first clip shows how the camera with a 150 mm lens shakes when the centre column is pulled up to full height. The vibration is quite insignificant and completely disappears in less than 2 seconds. A camera with a small lens can be released via a 2s timer.

With a 300 mm lens mounted, the GT1542T shakes much stronger, and much more time is necessary for shakes to settle down. Pulling the centre column completely down makes a big difference in this case: The shakes disappear almost as quickly as in tests with the 150 mm lens and the column up. The other two clips demonstrate this.


The Gitzo Traveler Series 1 tripod, a.k.a. GT1542T is probably the best light weight tripod on the market. Of course, we will see if the tripod manufacturers would manage to create an even better traveller tripod that would meet professional requirements in the next years, but at the moment the GT1542T is absolute state of the art in terms of engineering and technical design.

My impressions of handling this tripod and the test results that I reported above in this article allow the following conclusions:

  • The GT1542T is a perfect travel tripod for a serious outdoor photographer because it is extremely light weight, compact and sturdy.
  • Ideally it should be used with load of up to 2.5 kg. The GT1542T performs then like much bigger tripods.
  • The ability for vibration damping is very good but it can take well over 2s for GT1542T to completely absorb the shakes after you have touched the camera. Therefore a remote shutter release — via cable, IR, or radio — should be preferred with larger lenses over a delayed release with the camera timer.
  • Obviously, mirror lock-up or live view have to be turned on for optimal results.
  • The GT1542T can be used with longer telephoto lenses than recommended by Gitzo but only in emergency situations, i.e. when not bigger tripod is available and hand holding isn’t practicable for some reason. However, it would work only if you would manage not to touch the gear during the shot and the weather would be absolutely windless. Maybe also hanging some additional weight on the hook or in a bag between the legs can improve stability, but having not tested this option, I can’t confirm it.